Are Canned Beans Safe?

If you’ve been following Stonesoup for a while or if you’ve read my print book 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes, you’ve probably noticed that I use a lot of canned legumes in my cooking.

What can I say…

I’m a huge fan of lentils, beans and especially chickpeas. And while I often used dried legumes and cook them from scratch, I’m equally as likely to turn to the super convenient canned option.

I’ve noticed in the last few weeks, with a newborn in the house, that as the amount of time I have available to spend in the kitchen has dramatically decreased, the number of times I’ve been turning to canned legumes for quick, nutritious meals has increased.

The thing I often get asked about canned foods is ‘are they safe to eat?’ And the biggest concern tends to be around the presence of BPA.

What is BPA?

The short answer is that BPA or ‘Bisphenol A’ is a chemical that has been used to make plastics since the 1950s. If you’re into heavy organic chemistry, it’s all over here on Wikipedia.

Should I be concerned about it?

To my mind, yes. It’s not worth the risk. Especially if you’re an infant or are pregnant or breast feeding.

It’s known that BPA can ‘mimic’ the action of the hormone estrogen in our bodies, and has been linked with obesity and problems with brain development.

My policy is that the less plastic comes in contact with my food, especially when it’s heated, the better.

How do I make sure my canned foods don’t contain BPA?

There are 2 options here.

1. Look for cans that claim ‘BPA Free’ on the label.
In my local supermarket there aren’t any cans that make this claim (yet). So I rely on option 2 below.

2. Buy cans that don’t contain white plastic lining.
Canning is an old and very effective method of preserving food. The thing is, the original cans didn’t contain any plastic linings and really you don’t need them. Even for acidic food like tomatoes, plain cans are fine. And the best thing about using cans without any plastic lining is that you can be sure there isn’t any BPA or any other plastic nasties that we don’t really know much about.

The only downside to this method is that the only way to tell if the can contains BPA is to buy one and open it. So it does take a little experimentation. If you’re in Australia, I’ve done the hard work for you. But if you’re elsewhere in the world, you’ll have to do this yourself (sorry!).

So for the Aussies, I’ve been buying the Macro brand of canned chickpeas, cannellini beans and lentils, which are organic and don’t contain plastic lining.

For canned tomatoes, I buy the Annalisa brand – the tricky thing here is that some cans contain plastic lining and some don’t. How do you tell? I’ve found that the cans with the date code on the bottom of the can in a single line are plastic lining free. Whereas the cans with the date code written over 2 lines contain plastic lining.

Easy.

chilli con tuna-2

Chilli Con ‘Tuna’

The idea for this recipe came from one of my Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School students. It’s funny I would never have thought to replace the beef in chilli con carne with fish. But canned tuna works really well here.

This is a great ‘pantry’ recipe to have in your repertoire. Although it does benefit greatly from some fresh herbs and a little sour cream, from both a taste and appearance perspective, it’s delicious (if not quite so pretty) on its own.

Enough for 3-4
2 large onions, peeled & chopped
400g (14oz) can tuna in spring water, not drained
2 cans tomatoes (400g / 14oz each)
2 cans beans (400g / 14oz each), drained
1-2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes

1. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook over a medium heat until soft. About 10 minutes.

2. Add tuna and canning liquid, tomatoes, drained beans and chilli.

3. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until everything is hot.

4. Taste and season with salt and pepper and more chilli, if needed.

VARIATIONS
prettier & tastier – serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and a few handfuls fresh coriander (cilantro) or flat leaf parsley leaves.

paleo – replace beans with a head of cauliflower, finely chopped into little trees. Make sure you simmer until the cauli is tender.

carnivore – replace tuna with 450g (1lb) ground or minced beef. Brown beef in the pan with the onion before adding the remaining ingredients and continuing from step 3.

vegetarian / vegan – replace tuna with 2 cans drained lentils or 450g (1lb) cooked lentils (boil like pasta until tender).

budget – use and extra can of beans and half as much tuna.

different beans – red kidney beans are traditional in chilli but feel free to use chickpeas or white beans such as cannellini or butter beans instead. Black beans will also work.

different chilli – if you can’t find chilli flakes, feel free to use any other fresh or dried chillies.

Video version of the recipe.

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budget class logo

Mastering the Art of Cooking in a Budget…

On a completely unrelated topic, I recently donated to the profits from the last 12 months of my ‘Mastering the Art of Cooking on a Budget’ class at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School (SVCS) to two different charities: Oz Harvest and Feeding America.

Which reminded me to let you know…

The doors to the rest of the SVCS classes are closed at the moment but the budget class is still open to new students.

So if you’re keen to learn how to cook healthy, delicious meals while sticking to your budget, I recommend checking out the class.

It’s ‘pay what you can afford‘ so you can access the class for as little as $1.

And as I mentioned earlier, the profits are donated to charity. A chance for Stonesoup to help others.

For more details go to:
www.thestonesoupshop.com/budget/

With love,
Jules x

ps. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep offering the class as a ‘pay what you can afford’ so signup today to make sure you don’t miss out!

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{ 13 comments }

Virginia July 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Are you concerned about the mercury said to be in canned tuna?

After a while spots of blue-green start growing on bread. Is it merely unsightly or is it poisonous or otherwise anti-health?

Thanks for continuing this lovely website.

jules July 31, 2013 at 7:43 am

Hi Virginia,

Yes the potential mercury in tuna does concern me. When I was pregnant I opted for wild salmon or sardines instead.

I’m not a big bread eater and haven’t really thought much about mould on bread so can’t give you a good answer off the top of my head sorry!

J

Gareth July 30, 2013 at 7:31 pm

There is a third option (in France at least). In organic / health food shops, beans, peas and lentils are usually sold in glass jars.
Also, I just read that products containing BPA often have recycling code 7 printed on them ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling_codes ). I don’t have any cans in the vicinity, so I can’t check this, but someone else may be able to confirm.

Lindy July 30, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Congratulations on your donation to Oz Harvest. I volunteer at Manna House in Wollongong and we really appreciate all the help we get from Oz harvest. A great program.

Carol July 30, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Hi Jules (and everyone). In the USA, Eden Organic uses BPA free cans (labeled BPA free, but I didn’t actually check to see if there’s even a plastic liner at all). It is also one of the few brands in which you can get “no salt added,” and also lists kombu seaweed as an ingredient, which confused me until I recently learned that supposedly cooking with kombu aids digestibility of legumes. Best of all, I think there’s a noticeable difference in how delicious they are compared to other brands.

Carol July 30, 2013 at 9:24 pm

*Note: My comment pertains to chickpeas, it may be the case for other beans but I tend to stick to chickpeas and sometimes lentils.

Joan Foster July 30, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Hi, an alternative to canned beans, particularly those yummy chickpeas, is to use your slow cooker to do up a big batch, then freeze in “can-sized” quantities. It doesn’t take anytime at all to add to your recipe–no thawing required.

Nan July 31, 2013 at 6:40 am

First of all, thanks for all you do!
Secondly, this is a concern that I have had, too – though, I have found different information. Unfortunately, I don’t think that all BPA liners in the U.S. are white. I think they can also be clear, so you can’t see them. Also, many companies have stopped using BPA so that their labels can claim BPA-free. However, in place of BPA, they are using BPS or other similar chemicals, which in some cases are just as (or even moreso) dangerous than BPA. What I’ve heard recommended is to choose a company that you know is concerned about health and the environment that also labels as BPA-free. Chances are that these types of companies have chosen to replace BPA with something non-toxic or way less toxic, rather than BPS or something similar to BPA.

Hope that helps!
Nan (USA)

jules July 31, 2013 at 7:35 am

Thanks for raising this!
Even if the liner is clear you’ll be able to see if there is a clear plastic film on the inside of the can or not…
So sounds like the best bet is my option 2!

Lesh@TheMindfulFoodie August 1, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I totally agree with Nan. A lot of companies are now going BPA free, and unless you know what they use the lining cannot be trusted. The only brand I would ever consider using is Eden Organics which is an American one. I feel very passionate about this topic as I have endometriosis.
I tend to cook my own beans. It doesn’t take much effort and is better on the digestion, especially if you soak them beforehand. You could always cook in bulk {and use a pressure cooker or a slow cooker if you like} and freeze in portions, this is what I do. And yes kombu does increase the digestibility. Unfortunately Australian government has banned kombu because of the fear of iodine {preposterous really!}. So now I just use a a seaweed mix which does have a little bit of kombu in it.

Jemma July 31, 2013 at 7:51 am

Thanks for the info Jules, I’ve never thought about chemicals in my tins before, I’ll have to check which brands i buy from now on. I try to avoid the Macro brand like the plague because it is a Woolworths owned brand (like homebrand but fancier). I like to think I’m supporting the smaller Aussie businesses, although that’s sometimes hard to verify.

Alex August 4, 2013 at 7:50 pm

!! wow I will check what we have in our tins here in Norway – I’ve really started using alot of more chickpeas and white beans in cans, and stick to tinned tomato in winter. I will check this!!!

I love that you have donated the proceeds to Ozharvest – I ask some of my rellies to donate money to them instead of getting me gifts for Christmas – I really eat too much anyway and it is nice to know someone else is getting a meal!!!

Paul W August 28, 2013 at 2:32 am

Just tried the tuna chili. I had a lot of doubts, but WOW! This is going to be a regular work lunch this year. Think some olives would enhance it nicely…chili nicoise?

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